Salman Rushdie’s story “In the South” in the current issue of The New Yorker is set in Chennai, in South India. I spent many years in the city, and am disproportionately thrilled to see some of my old haunts–Elliot’s Beach and Besant Nagar (named after the theosophist Annie Besant)–mentioned in the piece.
God, can the man write.
“…the explosion of heat rippling the air, the trumpeting sunlight, the traffic’s tidal surges, the prayer chants in the distance, the cheap film music rising from the floor below, the loud pelvic thrusts of an “item number” dancing across a neighbor’s TV, a child’s cry, a mother’s rebuke, unexplained laughter, scarlet expectorations, bicycles, the newly plaited hair of schoolgirls, the smell of strong sweet coffee, a green wing flashing in a tree.”
I was particularly struck by:
“After his retirement, Senior [one of the protagonists] had been one of a group of ten friends who met every day to discuss politics, chess, poetry, and music at a local Besant Nagar coffeehouse…”
My (now-deceased) grandfather used to hang out in one such group at Besant Nagar after his retirement. This was waaaay prior to the march of the coffeehouses; the old men would sit on the retaining wall at the beach and gossip away. (I doubt they discussed poetry or chess though.) As a newly-minted teenager, I once came across the group unexpectedly, and I remember feeling somewhat perturbed that the old folks were having such a good time. Aaaah.
You can read Rushdie’s story here.